Skip to main content

10 coolest reptiles that are still on the endangered list

Herpetologists unite on October 21: Reptile Awareness Day! We’re looking forward to celebrating our scaly pets while spreading the word on their wild cousins and the difficulties they face. Sadly, there’s thousands of endangered reptiles and many “Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered” species out there. But it’s not too late. We can still do our part to save the snakes, lizards, turtles, and crocs of the world. Check out these 10 ultra-cool animals and learn more about how you can help them thrive. 

Minute leaf chameleon stands on a penny
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Endangered reptiles

Minute leaf chameleon

We’re starting small, tiny in fact. This little guy measures about a 10th of an inch and just barely loses out as the world’s littlest lizard. He hails only from the forests of Madagascar, and as they shrink, so does his habitat. There’s one easy thing you can do here: make the case for ethically sourced pets. Some of these endangered cuties are still removed from the wild to become human companions, which decreases their numbers and genetic diversity. 

Kemp’s ridley turtle

We’re keeping things on the little end with reptile number two since Kemp’s ridley is the smallest of all the sea turtles (though still 100 pounds). Sadly, they are also the most at risk. This beautiful swimmer lives in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast of North America. Fishing remains a constant threat — thousands of turtles get caught in nets and on lines every year. Keep track of where your seafood comes from to ensure no turtles were harmed during the process.

Williams’ dwarf gecko lays on a leaf
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Williams’ dwarf gecko

You’ve never seen a more beautiful gecko. Unfortunately, that’s partly why the species sits so high on the endangered list since they have been caught extensively as pets. On top of that, this particular reptile lives only in a small area of Tanzania, so he’s facing habitat loss, too. Any wild-caught electric blues are illegal, but they breed well in captivity if you have experience. 

Cuban crocodile

This croc comes from, you guessed it, Cuba, and their relatively compact range makes it harder for them to bounce back. Right now, only about 3,000 purebred Cuban crocodiles live in the wild because humans have hunted them for their skins, which wind up as bags and boots. Make sure any crocodile leather you buy was obtained legally through farming and didn’t harm any of the few wild Cubans left. 

Diver looks at underwater marine iguana
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Marine iguana

Although notoriously unattractive, this reptile still needs our compassion. Unlike their cousins who live in North America, marine iguanas survive on seaweed and algae, often eating it from rocks. They make up for their supreme awkwardness on land by being excellent swimmers and certainly fun to watch. Rats, cats, and dogs have become their biggest threat — even if the mammals can’t catch an adult, they love to eat the young and eggs. Marine iguanas aren’t photogenic, but you can embrace them by “adopting” an iguana and hanging his pic up on your fridge or posting it to your Insta. 

Flat-tailed tortoise

The flat-tailed tortoise reminds us that not all wild animals make good pets. While his unique tail might look cute, captive individuals do not do well in homes. Luckily, breeding programs have been a success and have helped level off numbers even though the tortoise has lost nearly 70% of his natural habitat. 

Gharial rests in the water by a tree
Image used with permission by copyright holder


The 110 teeth look scary, but he really uses them only to eat fish. The gharial’s native to India and lives almost entirely in water, so recent damming has threatened his survival. Captive breeding has proven successful in the past, with zoos around the world participating, including in the United States. Hopefully, it will help replenish the rivers with this enormous-mouthed reptile in the future.

Leaf-scaled sea snake

As the name suggests, you’d swim into this guy while in the ocean, specifically off the cost of Australia. While thought to be extinct at one point, the snake was rediscovered living in sea grass, where it hunts for wrasse fish. Because they live entirely in water and more specifically in reefs, climate change and coral bleaching have probably contributed to their precipitous decline. 

Madagascar Big-headed Turtle sits on a log in the river
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Madagascar big-headed turtle

This turtle’s alone in the world since no other species in the same genus survives, so the Madagascar big-headed turtle needs to be saved. Known for having a massive noggin, the lonely shelled creature lives in slow-moving water in Madagascar. There, he faces habitat loss and hunting from humans. But education and monitoring programs have stepped in to keep his branch of the tree of life around. 

Round Island keel-scaled boa

Two really neat things about this snake: They have a completely unique jaw, and they change colors throughout the day. Once upon a time, the boa ran Round Island off Mauritius and even further, but the introduction of goats and pigs caused habitat loss. Luckily, removing these mammals has worked, and the boas and lizards of Round Island are starting to come back. 

It can seem overwhelming, but there’s actually a lot you can do to help all these animals. Start by spreading the word, donating when you can, and educating the next generation about the importance of preserving the environment. It’s also crucial that all reptile owners know where their pets come from and support only good breeders. That way, we’ll still be able to enjoy the marine iguana’s weird eyes, the Williams’ dwarf gecko’s beautiful color, and the gharial’s funky snout for centuries to come. 

Editors' Recommendations

Rebekkah Adams
Rebekkah’s been a writer and editor for more than 10 years, both in print and digital. In addition to writing about pets…
Are turtles reptiles or amphibians? Here’s what you need to know
Learn the truth about turtles
Sea turtle swims gently in the sea

You probably learned in 3rd grade what an amphibian is: an animal that lives both in the water and on land; the name even has the Greek word for "both," "amphi," in it. But as with all things, it's actually a little more complicated than the explanation we got in elementary school. Of course, lots of animals would fit this description that definitely are not amphibians. After all, otters and penguins live on water and land, but they certainly don't qualify. It's especially tricky to distinguish between reptiles and amphibians since they share so many characteristics in common. So how do we tell them apart? Are turtles really reptiles or amphibians? This is how it all works. 

What makes reptiles and amphibians special?
Like humans, fish, and birds, reptiles and amphibians are both vertebrates. This means we all have backbones, unlike bugs or jellyfish. Most birds and mammals live on land; fish spend the majority of their lives in water. But the other groups are special because they get a little of each (we'll break that down in a minute). Additionally, these guys are cold-blooded while humans are warm-blooded. That means we make our own heat and need sweaters and blankets to trap it on or sweat to cool it off. Reptiles absorb heat from their environments, so you typically see them choosing to live in warmer climates and hibernating in winter. However, there are a few key differences between reptiles and amphibians. 

Read more
All reptile parents can make life easier with this essential heating-lamp hack
Two bearded dragons sunning

When you bring home a reptile or amphibian, you sign up to put a lot of work into temperature control. Nearly all reptiles need heating lamps or pads but they also need a cool spot, meaning you must have a setup that allows for both, with plenty of thermometers to confirm. Add in UV or other lights for a night/day cycle and you basically have a full-time job just keeping your buddies warm. But there are ways to cut down on the number of man-hours required, especially by installing timers and smart controls that adjust themselves with little input from humans. This is our heat-lamp hack to make the whole process a lot easier. 

What do I need for my reptile's enclosure?
Reptiles hail from everywhere in just about all habitats, which means you'll need to adjust your specifications based on what species you have. Even among lizards or snakes, for example, you could have one creature that needs warm and dry while another prefers hot and wet. Still some turtles spend almost their entire lives completely underwater. Your tank will take on an array of gadgets and gauges to keep your animals in optimum health, controlling temperature, light, and humidity. Maintaining these three things will be crucial to keeping your scaly pet alive. 
How do I automate my system?
When taking your tank to the next level, consider each piece separately. You don't want to treat the humidity the same as the lighting and both of those will be very different from heat. That means you'll likely be investing in multiple gadgets, each with a specific purpose to maintain optimum levels in your enclosure.
We'll start with the easiest because you can mostly set it and forget it for this one. Each animal has a slightly different sleep schedule and different lighting needs. Remember, many reptiles also want UV or specially colored bulbs. However, no matter what creature you have, you'll most likely want to simulate night and day, though not necessarily to correspond with the actual clock. That's because many reptiles, such as most geckos, are nocturnal and so you could have some of their "night" happen while it's waking hours for you. This only works if you can control the environment very closely of course. Regardless, many herpers keep their lamps on a timer that goes off and on at specific times or intervals. This will ensure that everything stays really consistent and there's no such thing as forgetting to turn the light off and keeping your animal up for too long. You will periodically need to check on it to make sure it's functioning properly, but this definitely qualifies as the easiest piece to get settled.

Read more
Gecko care: What you absolutely need to know before bringing one home
Gecko looks up at the camera

Ever wanted a pet with sticky fingers that can glide and lick its eyeballs with an incredibly long tongue? You won't find a puppy that can do those things. If you're looking for that level of acrobatics, try out something in the lizard family, like a leopard gecko, one of the most popular scaly pets. In addition to being just plain cool, geckos are relatively easy to keep and live up to 20 years! That's right. If you get a baby for your Kindergartener, you'll be sending the lizard off to college. But that's assuming your animal is kept properly, which is especially important when they're young and fragile. Here's everything you need to know about gecko care.

What type of pet parents should adopt a gecko?
Everyone who's interested in gecko adoption and has the time and space to commit to it! We recommend the leopard or crested for a first-time herp-parent but once you have that down, there are 2,000 breeds to consider that hail from across the globe (geckos are found on all continents except Antarctica). They also require some specialized feeding and care, which just means you need to ensure that you're really committed before bringing your new pal home.
Gecko care: What does a gecko need?
As mentioned, there are a few things you probably don't know if you're new to the slimy side of pet ownership. Geckos need to stay warm and wet and full of insects, so you will find yourself developing a whole new set of skills once you bring your new little guy home.
We always say the habitat has to come first, long before you even go pet shopping. It's just too tempting to buy a cutie right there and then frantically try to set up their enclosure. Gather all their things at least a week in advance and spend some time setting it up. The exact temp and humidity level varies by species but all of these lizards want a warm spot and a cool spot.

Read more